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Running on empty


The House Ways and Means Committee has performed no public service by killing the gas tax. The $1.5 billion the tax was expected to generate over five years was slated to finance important highway and transit projects designed to preserve the high quality of Maryland's now-deteriorating road system.

Lawmakers' distaste for imposing new taxes in the present economic climate is understandable. But rejection of the gas tax does not, by any means, eradicate the problems it was supposed to resolve, chief among them that federal dollars have shriveled over the past decade while the infrastructure has deteriorated. Maryland's highways and bridges are now in a perilous state, and without the gas tax increase the Transportation Department will be running on empty. Moreover, if the House follows the Senate lead, approving a bill to allow larger trucks on the roads, the erosion will only occur faster.

Opposing the gas tax is perceived among state lawmakers as a sure vote-getter in the next election. But we expect the public euphoria over having avoided yet another tax hike will be short-lived. Sooner, more likely than later, lawmakers are going to have pass a gas tax to help pay for improvements to roads and bridges to protect the integrity of one of Maryland's greatest assets -- a transportation system that not only offers motorists comfort and convenience but also remains a key support network for the Port of Baltimore. General Assembly action this session does not put an end to the gas tax; it merely delays it. When it is enacted -- as it must be -- it will be higher than the one defeated this week.

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